Peter Karmanos Jr. has given hundreds of speeches, received numerous awards at galas and been inducted into other halls of fame.
But Monday, he said, will be different.
“I’m really nervous,” Karmanos said.
Karmanos will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. The Carolina Hurricanes owner is a member of a 2015 class that includes such former NHL stars as Nicklas Lidstrom and Sergei Fedorov of the Detroit Red Wings and defenseman Chris Pronger.
As Karmanos quipped, he didn’t have a single goal or assist. He’s joining the hall in the “Builder” category, honored for his longstanding commitment to youth hockey programs, his support for U.S. hockey, for bringing an NHL team to North Carolina, winning a Stanley Cup and making the sport relevant in a college basketball-crazed area of the state.
“Peter has been a terrific owner and a builder in every sense of the word,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in an interview. “He has built successful organizations at every level and had a major impact on hockey in the U.S.
“He’s passionate about hockey. Probably from the time he could walk and talk he’s been passionate about the game and given so much back to it.”
Karmanos, 72, said he has attended the Hockey Hall of Fame ceremonies several times. He was there in November 2007 when Ron Francis was inducted after a playing career that included two Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins and another trip to the Stanley Cup final with the Hurricanes in 2002.
Francis, general manager and executive vice president of the Hurricanes, will attend the induction Monday along with others from the organization.
He’s passionate about hockey. Probably from the time he could walk and talk he’s been passionate about the game and given so much back to it.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on Canes owner Peter Karmanos
In talking about a Karmanos legacy, Francis said, “It’s incredible. I think he’s invested over 40 years of his life in developing the game of hockey and given so many kids the opportunity to have success playing the sport, not to mention the amount of money he invested to allow these kids to have that opportunity.
“For me, he’s done it for the right reasons. He didn’t do it to get notoriety. He’s done it because he really enjoys watching the kids have a chance to be successful.”
Karmanos is the former CEO and co-founder of Compuware, the Detroit-based software company. The Detroit native began the Compuware Youth Hockey Program in the 1970s, producing more than 200 NCAA Division I scholarship hockey players and NHL first-round picks such as Eric Lindros and Mike Modano.
“People ask me the legacy question all the time and I say that I’m happy that we were able to develop these youth programs,” Karmanos said in an interview. “That’s been really important and we’ve had good success with the youth programs. To me that’s the biggest thing, being a part of developing the grassroots of hockey. That’s critical.”
Karmanos teams won championships in the Ontario Hockey League, East Coast Hockey League and NHL. His Plymouth Whalers won OHL titles and produced 18 NHL first-round selections.
Opinionated and often outspoken, Karmanos also ruffled feathers along the way and has a longstanding rivalry with Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch that has crackled with tension at times.
Hartford Whalers fans were outraged when Karmanos moved the NHL team to Raleigh in 1997 and renamed it the Hurricanes. Ilitch was upset when Karmanos tried to snatch Fedorov away from the Wings in February 1998 with a six-year, $38 million offer sheet many in the league believed was as much personal – Karmanos vs. Ilitch – as business and not just one team trying to land a talented forward to help it reach the playoffs.
The Hurricanes lost to Fedorov and the Wings in the 2002 final but won the Stanley Cup in 2006, finally allowing Karmanos to raise the Cup.
“I’m extremely proud of what’s happened with the Hurricanes,” Karmanos said. “From a builder’s point of view, I was one of the few to figure out the Triangle was one of the best untapped markets in the country.”
Canes captain Eric Staal was a big part of the Canes’ run to the ’06 Cup and has respect for the team owner, who was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2013.
“He’s a passionate hockey man who has done a lot for hockey in Detroit and for hockey here,” Staal said. “Being able to win a championship with him was pretty special. He made some key additions during the season once he saw what we had, what we had going on. He’s willing to put it out there once he’s excited.”
Karmanos will be excited and nervous Monday in Toronto and understandably so, Hurricanes president Don Waddell said.
“It will be different in front of all his peers,” Waddell said. “He’s a pretty humble guy and this is the highest individual award in his life that he can get from a hockey standpoint.”
2015 Hockey Hall of Fame inductees: Peter Karmanos Jr., Sergei Fedorov, Phil Housley, Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Pronger, Angela Ruggiero, Bill Hay.